When you’ve been a project manager for quite some time, you’re bound to have encountered some problems (whether small, medium, big or devastating) regarding communication inside your team.
Good communication is the first essential thing needed for project success alongside discipline and responsibility. While discipline and responsibility can be seen as individual characteristics, communication is more of a group effort rather than individual.
There can be a lot of reasons for this:
From a psychological point of view some people are more extroverted than others, so they tend to value communication more. Others are more introverted and need to put some effort to communicate with others. This can lead introverted people to think that there is no reason in communicating every small detail/issue with their teammates, which can be fatal more often than not, if this happens regularly.
The vision of the project is very important. Sometimes miscommunication happens simply because people aren’t on the same page with you in terms of vision, so they can render some facts and details irrelevant, which may lead to numerous problems afterwards.
Lack of transparency is another common reason. Some companies implement the approach where team members aren’t aware of what the others are doing, (maybe for some project security reasons or in an attempt to eliminate distraction or something else) without realizing what atmosphere this can create inside the team. When there is too much secrecy inside a team, invisible tension walls begin to appear, which tends to shape a “box” around each team member, isolating them from the others. This is a sure way to kill communication if you are not careful.
Besides countering these reasons, there are a few more ways to establish effective communication inside your team from the beginning as best as possible, to minimize/eliminate any problems that may arise in the future.
Create the most detailed guide possible
This may seem like a simple thing, but lots of project managers skip this or make a guide, which holds very little value to team members. The perfect guide should include:
Introduction – This chapter has to describe everything that is going to be used and implemented in the project including all the tools, software, meeting guidelines and schedule, project parts, project methodology (methodologies) and so on. It’s kind of the general information in a detailed way.
Now to the part that many project managers skip. Make sure to include every small detail however small and obvious it might seem. Keep in mind that most people (if not all of them) aren’t able to get inside your head and see what you see or think what you think. The better you deliver the overview, the better the results.
Body – The body has to consist of as many chapters as needed, in order to provide all the information in a structured way. Be sure to use examples or visuals or anything else that will make your vision clear to team members.
Ending – This should be the motivational part that can include humor and encourage the team to actively participate in discussions, refer to somebody (this can be you or somebody from the team) if they have any questions and just put them in a good mood.
This is similar to what Disneyland does for its visitors. When a family arrives at Disneyland, the parents usually get so tired by the end of the day, that all they think about is leaving the place ASAP and never coming back again. They feel tired, frustrated, they spent a lot of money and time, which has to be earned again tomorrow (assuming its Sunday) and basically they are angry.
But guess what, Disneyland can’t have customers leaving them angry, as they might not return for another round sometime. That’s why, right at the exit, there is this huge tent with tons of ice cream which is really cheap and as soon as kids see this, they are bound to make their parents buy some for them. The parents surely fall for this last trick (yeah, whatever, anything to get out of here) and get one for themselves for free, if they buy for their kids.
The morale is that they leave Disneyland on a positive note and with ice cream in hand. Have you ever seen an angry person eating ice cream? I don’t think so 🙂
Use body language to your advantage
When communicating with your team, pay attention to the body language they use. It can tell you a lot more than words alone. I am sure you have faced situations where people say “yes” to you, but if look on their faces, it’s very clear that they disagree. I am not going into numbers trying to prove the commonly misused thing that most of the communication is nonverbal, but there are cases (and quite a lot of them) when body language shouldn’t be ignored.
If you feel that there has been a misunderstanding, don’t just leave it like that. Talk to that team member, find out what’s wrong and how can you help. You don’t want to be a tyrant who forces people to do his or her bidding. You want to be a leader and a friend. It’s not about pushing people to get something done, it’s about pulling them towards you. If you can do this, you will notice communication improvements pretty soon.
Less can accomplish more
This might sound contradicting to you, but really when you think about it, increasing the number of meetings, emails, follow ups, discussions, etc might not be the best way to add value to your team. Surely, the emails, meetings and follow ups all encourage communication and participation, but if people aren’t really getting much value of it, these tactics slowly tend to turn sides and become a nuisance for everybody. In short, you might end up in a worse state than you were if you try to push in the wrong direction.
What you need to do is find what is at the core of the communication issue. Maybe have some individual meetings with team members, or try to lessen the amount of team meetings, discussions and emails. Instead, have one very effective meeting instead of two or three during a day and make it a lot let stressful for the entire team.
When something isn’t working out, trying a different strategy or approach is the right way to go. Don’t push in the same direction, unless you know it’s absolutely necessary. Humans are pretty awesome beings, but at the same time, they really need a lot of guidance, understanding and adaptation. The more you can provide those, the more at home they will feel. That’s exactly what you want to do to improve the communication inside your team: make people feel at home, while at the office.